Tea in Art: What does it tell us?

Family of Three at Tea by Richard Collins

Family of Three at Tea
Richard Collins, c. 1727

Tea and tea drinking has been loved and enjoyed in England for over 350 years, popularised initially by Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II.  Together with that tea love, came a love for all of the beautiful accoutrements used in its preparation and service, like silver teapots and china cups. In tea’s infancy, tea and tea equipage were extraordinarily expensive.

Because of its value, mere ownership of tea and tea paraphernalia was an indication of one’s wealth and social status.  Artists of the 18th and 19th century like Johan Zoffany were keen to include a family’s precious tea possessions in paintings called ‘conversation pieces’ – relaxed portraits of family groups or gatherings of friends. It was an excellent way to portray their clients’ affluence – and that is why we see teapots, tea caddies, and other tea-related impedimenta so often present in fine art.

Although no longer a status symbol, tea continues to be celebrated in contemporary art. The picture below is a personal favourite – a framed print hangs in my sitting room. It was painted in 1950, and is called Conversation piece at the Royal Lodge, Windsor.  In it, we see King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II), and her sister Princess Margaret enjoying a relaxed family occasion over tea and cake. (The family Corgi appears to be particularly comfortable!)

 

 

Conversation piece at the Royal Lodge, Windsor by Sir James Gunn

Conversation piece at the Royal Lodge, Windsor
Sir James Gunn, 1950

 

For more tea-related art, see Tea in England’s ‘Tea in Art’ Pinterest Board.

 

You can see the original Conversation piece at the Royal Lodge, Windsor
at the National Portrait Gallery. Click here to purchase the print.



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Comments

  1. I LOVE that painting of the royal family at Windsor! So formal and yet like a casual family gathering for tea! Sweet!

    • Hi Karen. It is both formal and casual, isn’t it. The original, in the National Portrait Gallery, is huge. It’s just beautiful. I bought the print in the NPG gift shop, then had it framed.

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